Succeeding in a Vacuum?

By Barry Maher

This is not a story I normally tell. It’s not in any of my books and I’ve never included it in a presentation. But strangely enough, several different people who knew about it have recently asked me to tell it here. Maybe it’s because of the economy.  

Please understand, this is not intended as bragging. I couldn’t be more aware of how lucky I’ve been. And of the fact that, just as easily, I could have been unlucky.  And I’m certainly not relating the story as a simplistic “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” homily to throw in the face of the millions of people going through hard times right now.  

Stand up. Reach down and grab your own bootstraps. Pull. See how far you get by yourself. It’s like trying to lift yourself by the nose.

In any case, for whatever it might be worth, here’s the story.

I was broke—or at least within $2.67 of broke—and desperate for a job, any job. I’d knocked on the door of every business I could find, and finally I ended up at a rather seedy car wash called Scrub-A-Dub-Dub. Its high-end counterpart, Educated Car Wash (whatever that was supposed to mean), had already turned me down. “Educated” or not, they weren’t at all impressed with the fact that I had a recent college degree.

Unfortunately, the manager at Scrub-A-Dub-Dub was, if anything, even less impressed. He stood at the door to his office, his arms outstretched against the door frame as if I might try to sneak in past him.

“We’re already overstaffed,” he said. “Try us again in three or four months.”  

He turned to shut the door, and I was about walk away, wondering how I was going to transform $2.67 into enough food to tide me over until . . .  I had no idea when.

Then it hit me.

“The problem,” I called to the closing door, “is you’ve never seen the difference a really good vacuumer can make on the inside of a car.”

“What?” he said. The door stopped in mid-shut., “A good vacuumer?”

“A really good vacuumer! Let me show you.”

Now I’d never vacuumed a car in my life. I doubt if I’d ever vacuumed anything. But I did show him, practically vacuuming the pile off the carpeting of the next two cars in line.  

I got the job. Minimum wage, plus we had to pay for our own smocks. But I started at 7:00 AM the next day, and we got paid in cash at the end of each day.

And that job did tide me over until I could get my first fledgling business started: Later that business became not so fledgling. And that business led to:

        • A lucrative corporate job;

        • Corporate management;

        Management and sales consulting;

        Several books;

        • And getting to run my mouth on a regular basis in front of thousands of people—millions if you count radio and TV.

As I said, obviously, I’ve been very lucky. And I’ve failed far too often and at far too many things not to be completely aware that while things happened to work out very well for me, they could have easily worked out not so well. Perhaps extremely not so well..  

Still, as someone once said, if you would walk with the gods, you first have to put yourself into their path. This car wash story is simply offered as a personal example of a very small step I took toward that path. I’m planning to keep taking small steps. Maybe I’ll continue to be fortunate. Maybe I won’t. But without those steps, we have almost no influence on fortune.

It’s amazing what a really good vacuumer can sometimes do.

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada, Los Angeles, California


So Much More than Simply a Motivational Speaker.


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